How to Make Smart Resurfacing a Part of Your Daily Publishing Strategy

Tools and workflows to lift up your most valuable content, no matter its age

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This is part two of our series on resurfacing content to keep audiences engaged in today’s always-on cycle of news and information. In part one, we identified the three types of articles organizations should consider resurfacing. Now, we explore how to move from an ad-hoc approach to making smart resurfacing a regular practice.

Most organizations are sitting on buried treasure: mountains of existing content that is as relevant to their audiences today as it was when it was first published. The problem is that many aren’t sure how — or when — to resurface these gems.

Smart resurfacing has been part of The Atlantic’s digital strategy since its start on the web. Back in 1999, a teal green sidebar on the magazine’s home page promoted “Flashbacks from The Atlantic — curated posts that wove together writing from contemporary and historic contributors. Today, about 50 percent of traffic to The Atlantic in a given month goes to content not produced within that month, thanks to an aggressive resurfacing strategy across its website, social media, and email newsletters.

Content-producing organizations of all kinds can apply The Atlantic’s smart resurfacing tactics within their own newsrooms. From recognizing the value of existing content to devoting time to finding new moments to share past work, these practices can help you escape the impulse to constantly create content — and instead draw value from the work you already have in hand.

Below are a few tips for getting started, straight from The Atlantic’s newsroom.

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Step 1: Plan

Find — or create — the right moments within your editorial calendar

Can a story about railroad monopolies written in 1881 shine a light on the modern day duopoly of Google and Facebook? Can an article about an independent executive branch — penned by Grover Cleveland in 1900 — say something about presidential powers in 2018?

The Atlantic thinks so. It is using pieces such as these to celebrate its 160th anniversary, sharing one article, handpicked from its archive, each day for an entire year. The ongoing experiment connects readers with the magazine’s rich history, while also exploring how our world became the way it is today. It also motivates Atlantic editors to bring content online that has been locked in a print format for years, not unlike the PDFs or white papers many organizations create and then leave to gather dust on the shelves.

Organizations do not have to wait 160 years to create a resurfacing moment. Your content team can make resurfacing part of its everyday workflow in three ways:

  • Plan ahead by finding moments you can predict, such as meaningful occasions for your organization or important events in the calendar year.
  • Work in the moment by asking your social team to generate a daily, weekly, or monthly analytics report of top-performing articles from that time in years past. For example, The Atlantic has resurfaced “The Life and Death of the American Lawn” (2015) on a day in July or August in recent years.
  • Look back by encouraging your writers to revisit their articles and find their top-performing pieces at the end of each month. These can become future candidates for resurfacing.

By empowering your teams to bring resurfacing moments into their workflows, you can ensure resurfacing opportunities aren’t missed during busy times.

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Step 2: Collaborate

Work across teams to give old stories new life

Smart resurfacing doesn’t have to fall only on writing and distribution teams. The Atlantic makes this practice an all-team effort within its newsroom, bringing together video producers, designers, editors, writers, and developers to reimagine archival content with the tools and technologies of today.

The Atlantic’s animation team recently recreated famous pieces once published in the magazine as colorful shorts on YouTube. The animations brought fresh perspective — and thousands of viewers — to long-beloved works.

When The Atlantic launched its Family vertical this year, one writer worked with the archive editor to find past content that brought fascinating context to long-debated questions. It used a 72-year-old piece,“What’s Wrong With the Family?,” to ask why women were expected to act as “unhired help doing the hack work of the world.” When the social team launched the Family vertical’s Facebook group, Homebodies, they kicked off with conversation-starting past posts like “The Hidden Meaning of Kids’ Shapes and Scribbles.”

Getting your employees to work together to give old stories new life is about creating connection points:

  • Encourage teams to reach out to others to find past content that might add richness to their current project. These could be simple asks. For example, Atlantic writers sometimes work with editors to find the right past posts to include in the More Stories section of their latest online articles.
  • Create resurfacing ambassadors by encouraging individuals across functions to find articles related to their passions. “People at The Atlantic love the archives and are always paging through,” says Annika Neklason, an assistant editor in charge of archives. Once team members have built knowledge of a particular author, topic, or era, they become a champion and resource for others.
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Step 3: Empower

Give your team the tools they need to succeed (no new training required)

Many organizations believe they need pricey software to find and share content from their archives, but creating a system for smart resurfacing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. The Atlantic relies on one of the oldest, humblest of processing tools: the spreadsheet.

The Atlantic’s social team keeps a spreadsheet with the title, links, and last-publish dates for articles that are candidates for resurfacing. “Some of it is from the deep archive, but most of it is from the decade we’re in now,” says Caitlin Frazier, senior editor of social and audience at The Atlantic.

The Atlantic also has a deep archives spreadsheet, with headlines, authors, and dates for articles dating back to 1857. The team uses this sheet to populate features such as the Look Back section of “The Atlantic Daily” newsletter.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Build a daily resurfacing spreadsheet for day-to-day operations, containing everything you need to resurface pieces as opportunities arise. This spreadsheet contains articles ready to resurface immediately and is continually populated with new candidates.
  • Keep a “deep archive” spreadsheet for historic pieces. Organizations that have a long history of publishing should have a separate spreadsheet for pieces with contemporary relevance but outdated features — like old stock photos — that need updating.

Download this spreadsheet we’ve created to begin cataloging your own daily resurfacing content. These tactics give you a strong foundation — your team and your archives do the rest.

Start identifying the right posts for resurfacing

To learn how to identify the best posts for building out your archive, read the first post in this series, “Three Types of Articles That Never Expire and How to Share Them.

Content and distribution strategies are some of the many things we think about for our clients at Atlantic 57. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index, to follow our work, and get in touch on Twitter.